(I read much less elegantly/yellow-ly)

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman: a Review

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So I borrowed this from a friend almost a year ago and only got around to reading it just recently because...because...I have no excuse.  Actually, my behavior might not be as bad as it seems because I lent the same friend my sister's copy of Michael Jackson: This Is It a few months ago. Actually, maybe it is bad after all because I'm lending out my sister's possessions. Um.

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The negative thing about short story collections is that while they'll contain a number of gem-like little tales there is usually a lot of what feels like filler to wade through too. The good thing about short story collections is that if you find yourself reading a dud it'll be over in a few pages and hopefully the next story you read will be better. Probably the best collection  I've ever read is Mama Makes Up Her Mind: And Other Dangers of Southern Living by Bailey White. It's charming and smart and eccentric and there's no filler and I encourage everybody to read it.

Fragile Things was really fun - colorful, bizarre and insanely creative.A lot of the tales are excellently spooky or delightfully witty or just plain weird. Some of them are noted in the introduction as being award winners, and you can definitely see why. Some do admittedly fall short of the very high standard set by the best of the collection. Most of these seemed like pretty good ideas that just weren't fleshed out sufficiently. The only other Neil Gaiman I've read is The Graveyard Book, of which I retain very little memory but I think my sister owns so you know where this is going, and I definitely plan to check out more of his novels and short fiction from here on out because his storytelling is wonderfully unique, deft and a just a blast to read.
Take it away, remaining MJ GIFs!

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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte: a Review

Here we are now. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte.

It's beautifully written, gripping and transfixingly powerful. You just get sucked into and swept along in this wildly, passionately dreary tale of warped passion and blind revenge. Whee. Okay, now that the back-cover review is over, time to spew some random thoughts!

I have a theory that the only way to make a satisfactory Wuthering Heights adaptation would be to make it a fake reality TV show.
  • A bunch of hot and/or crazy people in an interesting locale.
  • They are all spiteful, immature, selfish and manipulative.
  • Seeing their soul-crushingly melodramatic story unfold is like watching a train crash. 
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"Oh, I've been tormented! I've been haunted, Nelly! But I begin to fancy you don't like me. How strange! I thought, though everybody hated and despised each other, they could not avoid loving me."

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Okay, so this already happened. But we can pretend it didn't, right?
This book is somewhat infamous (to me) and it seems that a fair number of people really, really loathe it. I can understand that perspective, because it's a pretty difficult story. But I think your reception of  it can be heavily swayed by what you go in expecting. I mean,  it's hailed as one of the best love stories of all time, but  it's not a romance-romance where the reader wants to be Lizzy Bennet or whoever; the love story is filled with hate and the choices the (mostly intolerable) characters make destroy their lives and  those of everyone around them. It can really throw you off, but if you know beforehand  that it's a bleak bleak bleak study in selfishness and misguided emotional venting as opposed to a charming and airy tale of provincial romantic mishaps then I think it'll be a lot more enjoyable from the get-go. (Once again, credit goes to The Bronte Myth by Lucasta Miller for helping me realize things.) Heathcliff...well, he's no Mr. Darcy.

"May she wake in torment!" he cried, with frightful vehemence, stamping his foot, and groaning in a sudden paroxysm of ungovernable passion. "Why, she's a liar to the end! Where is she? Not there—not in heaven—not perished—where? Oh! you said you cared nothing for my sufferings! And I pray one prayer—I repeat it till my tongue stiffens—Catherine Earnshaw, may you not rest as long as I am living; you said I killed you—haunt me, then! The murdered do haunt their murderers, I believe. I know that ghosts have wandered on earth. Be with me always—take any form—drive me mad! only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you! Oh, God! it is unutterable! I cannot live without my life! I cannot live without my soul!”  

The structure of the narrative, with Lockwood telling us what Nelly told him, comes across as a little odd and complicated. But actually, it serves a purpose when you think about it -Nelly and Lockwood act as buffers between the reader and the swirling vortex of narcissism and spite that is the story.  Nelly has an attachment to all the Sucky People who get up to the hijinx, and is an emotionally-healthy observer of said hijinx, and Lockwood is an impressionable outsider to the story who ties together the past and present. It's not perfect, admittedly, because Nelly is just sort of there and Lockwood...is sort of an idiot. The part with the dead rabbit-puppies? How I laughed.
I'm trying to think of other perspectives that would work. Healthcliff is the most important Sucky Person, but it couldn't be first-person Heathcliff because so much happens out of his sight. Everybody else plays too small a role to connect both generations of the story, except Nelly. The only thing I can think of is different characters narrating different portions of the story. The part with Isabella's letter works, doesn't it? So what if the whole story was like that, with all the characters taking turns to tell a bit based on which perspective and voice would best suit the happenings? Except Joseph would never have a chapter. Ever.

"We's hae a Crahnr's 'quest, at ahr folks. One on 'em's a'most getten his finger cut off wi' hauding t'other froo' sticking hisseln loike a cawlf. That's maister, yah knaw, ut's soa up uh going tuh t' grand 'sizes. He's noan feard uh t' Bench uh judges, norther Paul, nur Peter, nur John, nor Mathew, nor noan on 'em, nut he! He fair like's he langs tuh set his brazened face agean 'em!" 

Ech! Fook yah Joseph.

To conclude:
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Seriously, this came up when I did an image search for Heathcliff:


But in all fairness, so did these:
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Here's this now. Goodbye!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Pip's going back to the time when he owned this town.

The time has come, people of the Internet, to talk about how Sovereign Light Cafe is my Great Expectations song. Here is the story of how I made the realization.

Right in the middle of my era of crazed Dickens-obsession I was reading Great Expectations, which have I mentioned before is the best?? Because it is. Orphans and convicts in creepy graveyards, spider-cakes, unrequited love, the Aged P, delusion, death by conflagration, youthful stupidity. WHAT LARKS. So I was happily reading away (I think I was sitting waiting in a Trader Joe's parking lot, for a reason that now evades me. Why wouldn't I go into Trader Joe's? They have sample cheeses!) And then a song came on the radio. The song.  As I half-listened, it dawned on me that firstly the song was stand-alone awesome and secondly THE WORDS IN THE SONG MATCHED THE EMOTIONS IN THE BOOK. Besides the overall feeling of nostalgia and regret that pervades the book,  I was at the specific part where Pip's life has imploded and he's like, Well, darn, I sort of ruined everything by pushing away those deserving of my love and deserting them to chase my selfish and all-too-elusive dreams of superficial self-betterment, I guess I'll try to pick up the shattered pieces of my existence and go back where I really belong . And the song was like, "You've got nothing to hide, you can't change who you really are/ You can get a big house and a faster car/ You can run away, boy but you won't go far.." And I got all teary-eyed and realized that this was A Moment.

And so I obviously scribbled down the name of the band in the front of my book (spelling it "Keen" at the time, may I be forgiven) and went home and totally fell in love with their music. I saw them live in January and they did Sovereign Light Cafe and that was Another Moment. And Great Expectations is awesome and Keane is awesome and this post is a very happy way to start the day. For me at least. Maybe not for you. Maybe you don't like melodic/anthemic piano-based British introspection. That's ok! For you then, here is another happy thing: I read in the intro to The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (I'm behind on reviews) that when they were young, the Bronte sisters kept pet geese named Diamond, Snowflake and Rainbow and a pheasant named Jasper. JASPER THE PHEASANT.

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Monday, July 15, 2013

Eyre-athon Reviews

I've now finished my Eyre-athon of screen adaptations. Huzzah!! It's not actually quite as totally "finished" as it could possibly have been, but I think I did fairly well nonetheless. (As movie taste is subjective and adaptation taste is DOUBLY subjective because it's also based on book taste, I'd love to hear other opinions!)

1934, Virginia Bruce and Colin Clive
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About to sing a duet.
This version is a hoot. Not only does it seem like an adaptation created by someone who received an inaccurate 2-minute synopsis of Jane Eyre, it also seems like an adaptation created by someone who received an inaccurate 2-minute synopsis of how human beings interact normally with each other. The characters bear virtually no resemblance to their literary counterparts- Virginia Bruce's Jane is pointedly referred to several times as "beautiful" and smirks and swaggers her way about to the point that you want to shake her and say "Who do you think you are- Blanche Ingram?"

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 Rochester is Adele's jovial, loving uncle in the process of divorcing his wife, who in her reveal scene calmly strolls into the room in a pretty dress and says "Edward, darling, are we to be married again?" Raging madness = mild confusion, apparently. Add to that the inexplicable and frequent use of Adele as slapstick comedy relief (HEY GUYS that young child just fell over the rail of the staircase into an umbrella stand! I wonder if she can breathe HAHAHA), and well, you're left with the worst ever adaptation of Jane Eyre.

 photo images_zps433f3b24.jpg1944, Joan Fontaine and Orson Welles: This is a truly excellent film and artistic achievement in and of itself and I recommend it highly, even though it is not the best adaptation I watched in terms of faithfulness to the book. It's classic Old Hollywood-  super Gothic and melodramatic, with beautiful use of black and white and atmospheric lighting and tense violin music. Joan Fontaine is...ok? I don't know, she's sort of bland and simpering for Jane. Orson Welles is awesome. He chews the heck out of the scenery, and he's awesome.  I feel somewhat hypocritical for writing so positively because I'm being accusatory of all the other adaptations for not being faithful to the book, and I don't know why I DON'T feel the same way about this version. Maybe it's because the alterations in the other versions result in something that is artistically disappointing, whereas in this one the alterations are done so well that they result in something that is different but still respectful of the original because it's good? *takes a deep breath* Maybe I'm overthinking this. It's a great movie. Watch it!

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Join us, Jane! Welcome to the world of dated family-friendly comedy Westerns!
1970, Susannah Yorke and George C. Scott: Meh. This version feels badly miscast and rather as if it was going through the motions. Probably because I will forever think of him as Ebeneezer Scrooge/the guy from The Changeling, George C. Scott is, in my opinion, not right for Rochester -besides speaking with an on-again-off-again American accent, his performance feels obnoxious, blustering and stilted rather than tortured. Honestly, he'd be a better Brocklehurst. Susannah Yorke's 30-something Jane looks  like she belongs on Here Come the Brides due to her elaborate 70's hairdo and, while doing a decent job, she sheds no light into the character's complexity. The romance is absolutely lacking in chemistry and the story essentially just lurches from important plot point to important plot point. The dialogue in the end is particularly terrible and sappy and I yelled at the TV, but other than that this version is just a little worse than mildly displeasing.

1973, Sorcha Cusack and Michael Jayston:  Proof to me that word-for-word accuracy to the text does not a good adaptation make. The creators should have taken heed that films are an entirely different art form from books and there things that work on the page that simply don’t on screen. I'm an adaptation purist generally but this version just takes it too far. To try to include as many of Jane’s thoughts as possible, there is this terrible, overbearing voice-over narration.  Jane has to interject every few minutes (often in the middle of conversations)  to describe things that are either 1) totally apparent already and have no need of explanation  2) unclear but could easily be made apparent without a wordy explanation with better acting and an effective screenplay 3) specific little details that have a place in the narration of the book but come across as the weirdest of weird non sequiturs on screen. Overall, my reaction is this:

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Also, Sorcha Cusack drove me crazy as Jane. She was constantly doing this coy/surprised, eyebrow-raised smile thing. It would've been okay if she had done it just once or twice but it was her response to EVERYTHING and it was so bizarre and distracting.

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 ALL the time. 
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1983, Zelah Clarke and Timothy Dalton: Mr. Pricklepants from Toy Story 3 = Rochester = WIN. To me, this version does the best job of putting the book on the screen, due to spot-on acting by the leads and a script that is super faithful to the book but effectively adapts as well to convey the powerful emotion of the original story. Isn’t that what it’s all about? Now time for a Happy Rant. Zelah Clarke is wonderful as Jane. She is by turns quiet, composed and thoughtful, ardent and strong-willed, and chipper and playful. Everybody says that Timothy Dalton is too attractive to play Rochester, but for me at least, when the actor so masterfully captures the character's nature -and he simply IS Rochester - tormented, brooding, commanding and bitter but also somehow charismatic, wry and loving and all that under the sardonic surface- his looks are second to that ability. (Plus I, for one, will never make a complaint about Timothy Dalton's looks under any circumstances whatsoever.) This is the only version that takes enough time and manages that time so well that you truly believe that Rochester and Jane are soulmates. There are a few scenes that could definitely have been sped up, though, (it takes much too long for Jane to get to Thornfield once she's grown up at Lowood) and, like many old  period dramas, it suffers from a stagey air and poor production qualities.  BUT in my humble opinion, it's the one to watch.  If you could combine the lovingly faithful, top-notch quality content of this version with the lush production values and style of the 2011 version you'd have the PERFECT Jane Eyre adaptation.
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It kind of looks like Jane's neck is going to be snapped whenever they kiss.
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1996, Charlotte Gainsburg and William Hurt: I watched it a few years ago and was underwhelmed and intended to revisit because I couldn't remember anything other than that I disliked it but then I got distracted by this Wii game where you're an ocean explorer and you solve mysterious legends and heal whales to the soundtrack of Celtic Woman. SUMMER PRIORITIES. So here is the imaginary conversation I have with this adaptation  (Jane Eyre  is Jack Donaghy's teenage nemesis here, and I'm Jack Donaghy, dammit!):

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1997, Samantha Morton and Ciaran Hinds: Did not watch. But word on the street is that Ciaran Hinds plays a Rochester in need of anger management therapy. 
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Ah, the staring into the mid-distance!

Somebody get these two a golden retriever puppy to cheer them up. 
2006, Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens:  I couldn't find a copy of this one but I watched it a bit ago and I remember thinking that it was pretty okay but not fantastic (Be astonished by my specificity and thoroughness). I watched it and the '83 version at the same time, and while Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens were fine in their respective roles, Zelah Clarke and Timothy Dalton made wayyyyyy more of an impression on me. Also, I remember that there were some really silly, random changes and the dialogue was altered in an attempt to modernize, all of which is quite saddening to me. Oh! And the really controversial thing is that this version is fairly sexed-up; there are some flashbacks with Bertha (I think? I hope I'm not imagining that, because that would be weird) and it's pretty steamy when Rochester's trying to convince Jane to stay after the whole mad-wife unveiling debacle. It's not like I'm automatically righteously indignant about that, but if it's untrue to the way the characters would actually behave -which, at least for any making out after the wedding, it definitely is- or if the actual relationship-building content of the story is gotten rid of just to make room for more hanky panky then I'm not too happy. I'd say this version is worth a watch, though.

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 photo 215px-Jane_Eyre_Poster_zps9b6740c7.jpg2011, Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender: This movie is beautiful –sweeping music, lovely artistic design and cinematography. Every minute is a visual delight. Mia Wasikowska is an excellent, dynamic Jane who manages to capture the nuances of the character despite the film's shortish running time. It's very enjoyable to get swept up into the lushness and elegance of this version.  BUT in my opinion, it is crucially flawed in that it is sort of a Jane Eyre Lite that's too dark.

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I can't believe I actually found a use for this.

Allow me to elucidate: obviously it’s a serious story but there are also many moments of delightful warmth and humor that are totally absent here, and a lot of the excessive time spent on dramatic shots of Jane gasping and stumbling on the moors could have been better used in fleshing out  the relationship between Jane and Rochester with more accuracy to the amazing dialogue  Bronte wrote between the two (much of which is condensed, excised or inexplicably altered here, leaving Fassbender’s Rochester pretty bland.) The heart of the story is glossed over - to me, just as much as it’s a story about suffering and loneliness, it’s even more about the joy of life and the incredible beauty of the regard and affinity human beings are capable of developing for each other. I think this version focuses to much on the former and tells the story in such a way that we as viewers are expected to take the latter for granted. Basically.... Jane and Rochester spend too much time brooding and furtively watching each other wander the rugged terrain so then when the story's like "You're kindred spirits! NOW KISS!" you're like, "Um, sure, let's go with that?"  So it is definitely flawed but it's quite nice in several ways as well and it's gorgeously filmed.  

The End. The takeaway lesson is that I'm not a biased critic at all.  Nope nope nope. 

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